Today I said goodbye to Costa Rica and I think Costa Rica was pretty happy to say goodbye to me too...in less than 5 days I've been threatened with deportation, jail - twice - and a trip back to Nicaragua unless I offered sexual favours. So leaving Costa Rica on the rickety "bridge" to Panama was a bittersweet moment - it's a beautiful country but I was happy to be leaving! Read on for more details...
Soon after my arrival in the Costa Rican town of La Fortuna, built around Arenal Volcano, I came down with a bug but not before I'd decided to visit the volcano, which is still active today. Arenal Volcano usually spews red hot lava but is sadly sleeping at the moment so apart from a bit of smoke billowing out the top, there wasn't too much to see. Still, I hot footed it to the surrounding park, paid my ten bucks entry fee and wandered round the signposted hikes...which were absolutely pants! I'd heard rumours the park was a rip-off but it was even worse than I'd anticipated - there was literally nothing to see!
So when I saw a gate that said No Entry! leading up to the volcano, I figured BINGO! Being teeny tiny, I rolled underneath the gate and started hiking up towards the volcano - there was a very clear path and it looked safe enough. I realised this area was shut off to the public because the volcano is usually active but right now, it is very much dormant. I hiked through the lava trails, across a sea of lava rocks and up towards the green vegetation surrounding the base of the volcano, from where I had a breathtaking view of Lake Arenal. It was a pretty special moment and was worth the trespass...til I saw a park ranger waiting at the bottom. It transpired a couple had seen me and tipped off the rangers so I was expecting a massive k*** ing...but instead he gave me a guided tour and asked for my number haha. Ticos (the term for Costa Rican people) are pretty friendly and laidback so he didn't seem to bothered, even asking me what I thought of Costa Rica so far and where I'd been. Sadly, his companion at the other end was less laidback and said he'd already called the police to escort me to the local jail, so I legged it to the exit and hitchhiked back to town in a shuttle bus full of American tourists.
By now, this throat bug was kicking in so I chilled in some local hot springs called Baldi for a few hours, hoping the hot waters would kill my infection. No such luck so I mooched back to my hostel, La Fortuna Backpackers. It's new so still quiet - for just $10 I got my own big dorm and a decent shower, would def recommend this place. By morning, I felt fecking crap but made it to the mountain village of Monteverde, which means Green Mountains. Without wanting to sound green, this place is really green! I felt like I was on the set of The Sound of Music and was half-expecting an all-singing, all-dancing Julie Andrews to pop out from behind a shrub. My face must have looked dodge though because on the way to my hotel the nice bus driver kept frowning at me and patting my face with the back of his hand to check my temperature.
Then he suddenly stopped the bus, dug around in his bag for a minute, pulled out a pill and handed it to me. When I asked him what it was, he said something in Spanish which meant nothing to me, but kept pushing the pill and a bottle of water towards me. This was one of those bloody awful moments where I realllly didn't want to take what he was offering me but also really didn't want to offend him. So I smiled and swallowed the pill, telling myself it was paracetamol. Ten minutes later he stopped the bus again and thrust a bottle of baby lotion at me...by this point, I was seriously wondering whether he'd just given me Rohypnol but this thought was just too terrible to contemplate so instead I slapped on some lotion. To be fair, he had decent taste in baby lotion - it smelt good and was very moisturising. But definitely a weird moment I could have done without. Thankfully he didn't try and rape me but instead dropped me off at Casa Tranquilo, a good-value hotel with hot water ($10) and a TV playing cheesy American movies, badly dubbed in Spanish.
Monteverde is good for zip lining, where you take a tram really high up in the mountains and zip line your way down, reaching speeds of up to 65km/hr. For me, this trip is all about facing my fears head on and getting over them, including my fear of heights. I've tried scuba diving (mi no gusta), volcano boarding, some serious hiking and fished cockroaches out of my wash bag, so this turned out to be a real doddle and actually quite addictive!
Five hours later: I'm in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica for my epic journey to Panama the next day. Useful tip: everyone advises you to go to Costa Rica Backpackers but DON'T! Their dorm is dirty and expensive at $13. Cross the road and check into La Corte Hotel, where for $12 you get a comfortable four-bed room with private bathroom and an exceptionally friendly receptionist. I shall head back there next week for my return flight to New York, not long folks!
The next morning, everything was going swimmingly. I shared a taxi with a fellow traveller to the bus station, boarded my bus to Sixaola on the Costa Rican/Panama border and we even arrived early. I met Elias, a friendly Swiss guy, and we walked across the iconic Panama bridge, linking Panama and Costa Rica. I say bridge, but it's really just a bunch of wooden boards haphazardly nailed together over a murky river, with human-sized gaps everywhere. It was all going so well and then suddenly, everything just fell apart. We realised we needed our exit stamps from Costa Rica so headed back over the bridge to passport control, only for the Costa Rican border guard to start yelling at me in Spanish.
Apparently I never got my entry stamp into Costa Rica when I arrived from Nicaragua, so was in the country illegally. For the second time, I got threatened with a trip to the local police station and he said something about deportation. His only solution was for me to head back to Nicaragua to re-enter Costa Rica and get my entry stamp, wtf! I only have a week left and didn't fancy spending it trekking back to sodding Nicaragua, so Elias and I decided to chance it and sneaked back over the bridge to Panama. But they sussed me out in about ten seconds and escorted me back to the Costa Rican border...where this time the border guard had taken a different stance. Sitting in his muggy little passport booth, he said he could help me in return for a "regalo", Spanish for gift. So I whipped out my purse and offered him $50...I figured this was worth it to get over the border. But his curt response was: "I don't need any money." There was this awful moment where I understood him and he understood that I understood him...basically he wanted sex. Eurgh in your dreams you fat, sweaty b****** I thought, but didn't say. I tried the old boyfriend line but his English, which so far was competent, suddenly failed him and he developed this evil glint in his beady eyes as he leant forward...
In desperation, I pulled my last trick out of my sleeve...I started bawling, big time. One thing I've learnt about men is that crying women scare and confuse them. Sure enough, he backed off and started looking around nervously, telling me everything would be OK, he'd help me, please stop crying. I loudly kept up the waterworks til his letchy hand stamped my passport, then ran across the border for the final time, gripping my stamped passport. I've now learnt the hard way to always, ALWAYS check I have a passport stamp when I enter and exit a country. Border controls in Central America are a joke - you literally can wander in and out of a country past a ton of guards, pay your fees and still be without that necessary stamp. No signposts, no warning signs, literally nothing.
Anyway, it all worked out in the end. I'm sat in a comfy hostel called Bocas Bound on Isla Bastimentos, Bocas Del Toro which is on Red Frog Beach. Surrounding the hostel is wild jungle, full of red frogs and sloths (I've already seen a mummy sloth cuddling her baby sloth!). Tomorrow I plan to do absolutely nothing, apart from take my meds and read my book. Today has stressed me out beyond belief but I guess this is all part of the travelling experience ;) just one week til I'm home, love to all! xxx